Monday, March 29, 2010

SunPower Completes Acquisition of SunRay

Solar-panel maker SunPower Corp. said Monday it completed its acquisition of SunRay Renewable Energy, a solar power plant developer with offices in Europe and the Middle East.

SunPower paid $263 million in cash and $14 million in promissory notes in the deal, which was announced in February.

As a result of the deal, SunPower expanded its project pipeline to include more than 1,200 megawatts of solar photovoltaic projects in different stages of development across Europe.

Shares rose 55 cents, or 3 percent, to $18.77 during morning trading. The stock has traded between $17.82 and $34 during the past year.

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Global Solar Demand Expected at 4GW in Q2 201G

Market research firm Solarbuzz believes the solar industry will experience rapid growth in 2010, with global PV demand expected to reach 4GW in the second quarter. According to Solarbuzz, the fourth quarter of 2009 saw the PV market reach 2.9GW, 453% times larger than first quarter of 2009, a new record high. The end market strength was driven principally by Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, while Germany actually accounted for 52% of the global solar demand in the fourth quarter.

"The data demonstrates clearly that managing quarterly corporate performance in 2010 will be even more challenging than it has been over the past two years - a period that proved to be a roller coaster ride for sales revenues and profitability," said Craig Stevens, President of Solarbuzz, a division of The NPD Group. "In the event that production is not moderated in the second half of the year, the outcome will be a return to more price disruption. However, unlike 2009, there will be significant consequences for high cost producers."

For the first half of the year, Solarbuzz believes that module prices will remain stable, due to many leading producers already running at high-utilization rates to meet demand. However, preliminary estimates show average solar cell manufacturer gross margins were 8% in the fourth quarter 2009, down from 15% one year earlier. Crystalline silicon module factory-gate prices had fallen 22% between the first and fourth quarter 2009, according to Solarbuzz.

Module production is projected to rise 7% in first quarter and a further 19% in the second quarter 2010, Solarbuzz said. Thin film production will account for 17% of global shipments in first half of 2010.

One key warning was the potential impact on demand once the proposed German feed-in tariff cuts are introduced. The market research firm noted that there should be discipline on production levels and inventory management to limit the potential for more price declines.

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Italy to Unveil New Solar Incentives in April

New information in a Reuters report outlines Italy's plans to unveil a new incentive scheme for the country's solar power market. Full details of the latest development in Italy's solar sector will be announced in April after a regional vote. According to a senior government official, the scheme is expected to be one of the most generous in Europe.

Details of the plan have been delayed since the beginning of this year, raising investor concerns about strategies for Italy and added unpredictability to shares in Italian solar firms such as TerniEnergia and ErgyCap.

Italian industry ministry undersecretary Stefano Saglia has said that his ministry and experts from the Environment and Culture Ministries have now agreed technical details of the new incentive plan. However, the plan is still awaiting approval from the state body which oversees relations between central government and regions and whose meeting had not been called for a couple of months in the run-up to regional elections, due on March 28-29.

"I hope that the conference will be called immediately after elections...as soon as April," said Saglia.

Saglia made it clear that Italy's new incentives would remain "the most generous in Europe" yet the planned 5-6% cut in support for the solar energy sector would still go ahead "in 2011, 2012 and 2013 with bigger cuts for large-scale projects." The incentive cut level is expected to be "slightly below the reduction in solar panel costs," yet the minister declined to give more details.

Some region's authorities and farmers lobbies, who face losing solar incentives, have opposed development of large-scale solar projects, he said.

The existing Italian feed-in tariff scheme is due to expire at the end of 2010 after the capacity covered by the incentives hits a 1,200MW cap. Under the draft plan, new installed solar capacity will be capped at 3,000MW over a period of three years with an expectation of reaching 8,000MW of installed solar capacity in 2020.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

GCL-Poly Announces 2009 Results

GCL-Poly reduces polysilicon costs to US$39.4 per kg in 2009












GCL-Poly has announced 2009 financial results and detailed a major effort to diversify operations and move downstream into wafer and solar project development. Revenue from the sale of polysilicon and wafers amounted to RMB 2,537.1 million (US$371.6 million) and and RMB 262.3 million (US$38.4 million respectively.

GCL-Poly was able to produce 7,454MT of polysilicon in 2009 and sold 5,675MT as well as 46.4MW of wafers via tolling arrangements. Average selling price for polysilicon was US$65.4 per kg and US$0.83/W for wafers.

As the company ramped polysilicon production and benefited from improved economies of scale, production costs declined significantly from US$66.0 per kg in 2008 to US$39.4 per kg in 2009.

Previously announced polysilicon capacity ramps remain on target, having reached 18,000MT production capacity by the end of 2009 and plans to reach 21,000MT by December 2010. GCL-Poly expects to produce roughly 15,000MT of polysilicon in 2010.

However, significant expansion of ingot and wafering capacity beyond previously guided plans is now underway. In November, 2009, GCL-Poly said that wafer production capacity would be expanded to 1GW by mid-2010.

The company now plans to expand wafer capacity to 2GW by end of 2010 with a production volume of 1.3GW. In-house construction of ingot and wafer manufacturing facilities has already started.

Further expansions could come from acquisitions, such as its recently announced acquisition of Konca Solar Cell, as well as partnerships, the company said.

Moving further downstream, GCL-Poly noted that its first 20MW solar power plant in in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province was fully operational and with its partner CIC expects to expand it's project business globally in 2010.

“We are now one of the leading suppliers of solar raw materials globally and we are also one of the top green energy operators in China,” noted Mr. Zhu Gong Shan, Executive Director, Chairman and CEO of GCL-Poly.

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Suntech Brings Solar Power to Harrah's Rincon Casino

Suntech's Solar Panels Offset a Quarter of the Casino's Energy Consumption

VALLEY CENTER, Calif., March 24 /PRNewswire-Asia/ -- Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. (NYSE: STP), the world's largest manufacturer of crystalline silicon solar panels, today announced that it has completed a 1 megawatt (MW) solar installation for Harrah's Rincon Casino in Southern California, a top resort-gaming destination. The system will offset nearly a quarter of the Casino's total energy consumption and is part of Harrah's ongoing conservation and sustainability effort.

With over 4,000 Suntech solar panels installed at the Harrah's Rincon site, the system covers over five-and-a-half acres and will provide enough power to run nearly 90% of the 662-room property's HVAC system. The Harrah's Suntech solar installation is expected to provide the Casino with considerable energy cost savings over time.

"Led by the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians in partnership with the California Center for Sustainable Energy, TRANE and San Diego Gas & Electric, the Harrah's Rincon Casino solar plant is a model for California businesses to follow and speaks to the success of the California Solar Initiative program," explained Steven Chan, Chief Strategy Officer of Suntech. "We're thrilled with the environmental and cost benefits from Harrah's solar installation as well as the education opportunity it provides for visitors to its resort."

Bo Mazzetti, Chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, said, "This is an important step forward in energy efficiency. It is just the beginning of what we, as a tribe, look to accomplish as responsible members of our community which is addressing the multiple energy and environmental issues that currently face all governments."

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SolarCity Partners with Home Depot





Foster City-based SolarCity Inc. plans to offer installation of BP Plc photovoltaic panels for residential customers at 92 Home Depot stores in Northern California. SolarCity will begin offering design, installation and financing services for customers atHome Depot starting April 2, Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said today in an interview. The company will use BP panels exclusively for the Home Depot orders, he said. SolarCity has installed about 6,000 rooftop systems in the U.S., mostly in California, Oregon and Arizona. The company offers homeowners financing for solar systems that require no down payments.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Caltech Researchers Create Highly Absorbing, Flexible Solar Cells with Silicon Wire Arrays

PASADENA, Calif.—Using arrays of long, thin silicon wires embedded in a polymer substrate, a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has created a new type of flexible solar cell that enhances the absorption of sunlight and efficiently converts its photons into electrons. The solar cell does all this using only a fraction of the expensive semiconductor materials required by conventional solar cells.

"These solar cells have, for the first time, surpassed the conventional light-trapping limit for absorbing materials," says Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor, professor of applied physics and materials science, and director of Caltech's Resnick Institute, which focuses on sustainability research.

The light-trapping limit of a material refers to how much sunlight it is able to absorb. The silicon-wire arrays absorb up to 96 percent of incident sunlight at a single wavelength and 85 percent of total collectible sunlight. "We've surpassed previous optical microstructures developed to trap light," he says.












This is a photomicrograph of a silicon wire array embedded within a transparent, flexible polymer film. [Credit: Caltech/Michael Kelzenberg]

Atwater and his colleagues—including Nathan Lewis, the George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry at Caltech, and graduate student Michael Kelzenberg—assessed the performance of these arrays in a paper appearing in the February 14 advance online edition of the journal Nature Materials.

Atwater notes that the solar cells' enhanced absorption is "useful absorption."

"Many materials can absorb light quite well but not generate electricity—like, for instance, black paint," he explains. "What's most important in a solar cell is whether that absorption leads to the creation of charge carriers."

The silicon wire arrays created by Atwater and his colleagues are able to convert between 90 and 100 percent of the photons they absorb into electrons—in technical terms, the wires have a near-perfect internal quantum efficiency. "High absorption plus good conversion makes for a high-quality solar cell," says Atwater. "It's an important advance."

The key to the success of these solar cells is their silicon wires, each of which, says Atwater, "is independently a high-efficiency, high-quality solar cell." When brought together in an array, however, they're even more effective, because they interact to increase the cell's ability to absorb light.

"Light comes into each wire, and a portion is absorbed and another portion scatters. The collective scattering interactions between the wires make the array very absorbing," he says.










This is a schematic diagram of the light-trapping elements used to optimize absorption within a polymer-embedded silicon wire array. [Credit: Caltech/Michael Kelzenberg]

This effect occurs despite the sparseness of the wires in the array—they cover only between 2 and 10 percent of the cell's surface area.

"When we first considered silicon wire-array solar cells, we assumed that sunlight would be wasted on the space between wires," explains Kelzenberg. "So our initial plan was to grow the wires as close together as possible. But when we started quantifying their absorption, we realized that more light could be absorbed than predicted by the wire-packing fraction alone. By developing light-trapping techniques for relatively sparse wire arrays, not only did we achieve suitable absorption, we also demonstrated effective optical concentration—an exciting prospect for further enhancing the efficiency of silicon-wire-array solar cells."

Each wire measures between 30 and 100 microns in length and only 1 micron in diameter. “The entire thickness of the array is the length of the wire,” notes Atwater. “But in terms of area or volume, just 2 percent of it is silicon, and 98 percent is polymer.”

In other words, while these arrays have the thickness of a conventional crystalline solar cell, their volume is equivalent to that of a two-micron-thick film.

Since the silicon material is an expensive component of a conventional solar cell, a cell that requires just one-fiftieth of the amount of this semiconductor will be much cheaper to produce.

The composite nature of these solar cells, Atwater adds, means that they are also flexible. "Having these be complete flexible sheets of material ends up being important," he says, "because flexible thin films can be manufactured in a roll-to-roll process, an inherently lower-cost process than one that involves brittle wafers, like those used to make conventional solar cells."

Atwater, Lewis, and their colleagues had earlier demonstrated that it was possible to create these innovative solar cells. "They were visually striking," says Atwater. "But it wasn't until now that we could show that they are both highly efficient at carrier collection and highly absorbing."

The next steps, Atwater says, are to increase the operating voltage and the overall size of the solar cell. "The structures we've made are square centimeters in size," he explains. "We're now scaling up to make cells that will be hundreds of square centimeters—the size of a normal cell."

Atwater says that the team is already "on its way" to showing that large-area cells work just as well as these smaller versions.

In addition to Atwater, Lewis, and Kelzenberg, the all-Caltech coauthors on the Nature Materials paper, "Enhanced absorption and carrier collection in Si wire arrays for photovoltaic applications," are postdoctoral scholars Shannon Boettcher and Joshua Spurgeon; undergraduate student Jan Petykiewicz; and graduate students Daniel Turner-Evans, Morgan Putnam, Emily Warren, and Ryan Briggs.

Their research was supported by BP and the Energy Frontier Research Center program of the Department of Energy, and made use of facilities supported by the Center for Science and Engineering of Materials, a National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Caltech. In addition, Boettcher received fellowship support from the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Italian Gov't Approves Plans for Europe's Largest PV Plant

The Italian government issued final approval to MEMC’s SunEdison division to develop and build a 72-megawatt photovoltaic solar power plant near Rovigo, in northeastern Italy.

The plant is expected to be Europe’s largest photovoltaic solar power plant in Europe when it’s completed.

The largest facility currently is a 60-megawatt solar farm in Olmedilla, Spain, followed by a 50-megawatt plant in Strasskirchen, Germany, which was built by MEMC through a joint venture.

The Rovigo plant is schedule to begin generating power in the second half of this year, with final completion by year’s end, the company said.

In its first full year of operation, the system will generate enough energy to power 17,150 homes and avoid 41,000 tons of CO2, or the equivalent of taking 8,000 cars of the road, the company said.

SunEdison is developing the project jointly with its financing partner Spain-based retail and commercial bank Banco Santander, and the company said additional financial partners are expected to join the project in final ownership.

The project is expected to create more than 350 local construction jobs in Italy’s Veneto region. Isolux Cors├ín, Spain’s seventh-largest construction company known for its utility work, was chosen for the project.

Beltsville, Md.-based SunEdison, led by President Carlos Domenech, develops and operates solar power plants for commercial clients, including government agencies and utilities.

MEMC Electronic Materials Inc. bought SunEdison last year in a deal worth more than $200 million.

St. Peters, Mo.-based MEMC (NYSE: WFR), led by CEO Ahmad Chatila, manufactures wafers for the semiconductor and solar industries. With the addition of SunEdison, MEMC is also a developer of solar power projects and North America's largest solar energy services provider.

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Munich Re Signs Photovoltaic Module Guarantee Cover for LDK Solar

XINYU CITY, China and SUNNYVALE, Calif., March 11 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- LDK Solar Co., Ltd. ("LDK Solar") (NYSE: LDK) announced today that Munich Re's Special Enterprise Risk unit's new insurance solution will cover the performance warranty of its photovoltaic modules.

The insurance solution covers the performance warranty of LDK Solar modules for a period of 25 years. The warranty guarantees that the modules will perform to at least 90 percent capacity in the first ten years and to at least 80 percent in the remaining 15 years.

The cover offers LDK Solar a greater degree of business certainty and thus constitutes a powerful differentiator in a competitive marketplace. Ultimately it gives operators of solar parks additional economic security in the event of an unforeseen loss in performance of the modules. This new insurance solution is a major stepping-stone in financing photovoltaic projects as it provides additional financial security.

Thomas Blunck, Member of the Board of Management at Munich Re: "We are happy that we acquired LDK Solar as a new client. It shows that our innovative photovoltaic module guarantee cover is beginning to establish a standard in the industry. Investors and lenders will welcome this development."

"We are pleased to become a client of Munich Re and view this insurance solution as a positive development for the PV industry as it provides additional fiscal security in guaranteeing the long-term performance of solar modules," stated Xiaofeng Peng, Chairman and CEO of LDK Solar.

The insurance cover developed by Munich Re's unit Special Enterprise Risk will be implemented for Munich Re by one of the group's primary insurers.

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SolarCity Opens New Office in Inland Empire

SolarCity, a Foster City-based installer of solar systems, opened an office in Pomona that will support its business in the Inland Empire, San Gabriel Valley and the foothill communities as far west as Pasadena.

The new 12,000-square-foot facility is the company's fourth office and installation facility in Southern California. Beau Baldock relocated from Culver City to become the new facility's operations manager. "We're happy to be able to create some local jobs here. We expect to hire 1-20 employees in the next few months to staff the office," Baldock said in a prepared statement. Ontario resident Raymond McGeisey was hired by Solar City in late January and will be the new facility's warehouse manager.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

First Solar Signs Contract with PG&E for 300 MW Photovoltaic Solar Power Project

TEMPE, Ariz., Mar 09, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) - First Solar, Inc. today announced a power purchase agreement to supply Pacific Gas and Electric Company with renewable electricity from a 300 megawatt (AC) utility-scale photovoltaic solar power facility that First Solar is developing in Southern California.

The Desert Sunlight project, to be located near Desert Center in eastern Riverside County, Calif., will have a total capacity of 550 megawatts, enough to power approximately 160,000 area homes -- or about 480,000 residents. The other 250 MW portion of the project is already under contract to Southern California Edison. First Solar's power purchase agreements with PG&E and SCE are subject to the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission.

First Solar will build the Desert Sunlight project using its industry leading thin-film photovoltaic solar modules and providing its project development, engineering, procurement and construction capabilities. With construction expected to start by the end of 2010 and completion as early as 2013, the project will displace 300,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 60,000 cars off the road. It will also create approximately 430 construction jobs. The project's permit application has been fast tracked by the Bureau of Land Management.

"First Solar is one of the few companies that has all the capabilities required to realize very large, utility-scale solar projects like Desert Sunlight, which are important in helping our customers and California reach the state's renewable energy goals," said Rob Gillette, First Solar chief executive officer.

First Solar has 1,700 megawatts of utility-scale power projects with power purchase agreements in North America.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

US Bank Partners with SolarCity for Additional $90 Million

U.S. Bancorp is expanding its partnership with SolarCity, agreeing to put $90 million more into a fund that's financing solar projects for homeowners and businesses.

The deal is the third between Foster City, Calif.-based SolarCity and Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank. The bank had previously put up about $100 million to help finance solar installations.

SolarCity operates in California, Arizona, Oregon, Texas and Colorado. SolarCity’s SolarLease option allows homeowners to put no money down on a new solar system and pay for it on a regular schedule.

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